Best 9 Nootropics (Smart Drugs) To Unlock Your Full Potential

Nootropics; sometimes referred to as smart drugs – are compounds that enhance brain function. They're becoming a common way to give an extra boost to your mind. According to one Telegraph survey, up to 25 percent of students at leading UK universities have taken the prescription smart drug modafinil [1], and California tech start-up workers are trying everything from Adderall to LSD to drive their brains to a higher gear[2].

I have been actively benefiting from nootropics since 1997 when I was struggling with cognitive performance and ordered nearly $1000 worth of smart drugs from Europe (the only place where you could get them at that time). I remember opening the unmarked brown package and wondering if the pharmaceuticals and natural substances would really make my brain better.

They did, and I've been a big fan of some cognitive enhancers ever since.

But I'm suspicious of the others. The trouble with using a general term like “nootropics” is that you lump all kinds of substances together. Technically, you could argue that both caffeine and cocaine are nootropics, but they're hardly the same. With so many ways to enhance your brain function, many of which have significant risks, it is most important to look at nootropics on a case-by-case basis. Here's a list of 9 nootropics, along with my thoughts on each of them.

1) Modafinil (Provigil), Armodafinil (Nuvigil), and Adrafinil

Focus, motivation, clarity, and memory.

I started taking modafinil while I was receiving my MBA at Wharton. At the same time, I was also working at a start-up that was later sold for $600 million in cash, so you can imagine how busy I was. I was looking for a way to keep my brain running.

When I started taking modafinil for the first time, I felt more like myself than I had in years. I took it at different doses every day for 8 years (with a doctor's prescription). It gave me energy, and it changed my life. I wouldn't be a biohacker without modafinil today.

When I was working on the Bulletproof Diet book, I wanted to check that the results I was getting from Bulletproof Coffee didn't come from modafinil, so I quit using it and tested my cognitive performance when I was out of it. What I noticed was that my emotional performance on Bulletproof Coffee and Bulletproof Diet was almost the same as my performance on modafinil. I'm still traveling with modafinil, and I'm going to take it occasionally, but I rarely feel the need while living a Bulletproof lifestyle.

There is a slight risk (about 5 in a million people) of having a life-threatening immune response to modafinil. It's the same reaction that occurs with ibuprofen and other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), so if you know that you don't respond well to NSAIDs, talk to your doctor before taking modafinil.

One reason I like modafinil is that it stimulates the release of dopamine, but it binds to your dopamine receptors differently than addictive substances like cocaine and amphetamines do, which may be part of the reason that modafinil provides many of the advantages of other stimulants but does not trigger addiction or withdrawal symptoms. [3][4] It does increase concentration, problem-solving, and alertness, but it is not in the same class of drugs as Adderall, and it is not a traditional stimulant. Modafinil is patent-free, so you can get it generically, or order it from India. It's a prescription drug, so you need to talk to a doctor about it.

You can also seek armodafinil, a more refined form of modafinil, with only biologically similar molecules in it. It has almost the same and sometimes stronger effects. Without insurance, it's very expensive.

If you don't want to get a prescription, there's adrafinil, which has similarities, but I wouldn't recommend taking it regularly, because it's a lot of stress on your liver.

Normally prescribed modafinil dose: 50-200 mg, taken in the morning (unless you want to be awake all night) Normally prescribed armodafinil dose: 100-200 mg, taken in the morning Adrafinil dose: 300 mg, taken in the morning.

2) Nicotine

Focus, mood, motivation

Nicotine is a smart drug: picture of sunrise tobacco plants Nicotine can be a potent nootropic if you take it carefully and sp. Here is a complete guide to the use of nicotine as a nootropic, complete with pros and cons, risks, dose recommendations, and advice on what kind of nicotine to use.

I don't recommend smoking cigarettes or using tobacco to get nicotine. I'm thinking about very small doses that are much smaller than you would get from smoking. Nicotine has a direct effect on your mitochondrial energy, and just about anything that increases mitochondrial function will make your brain work better.

3) Amphetamine (Adderall)

Focus… but with high risk and several drawbacks

Big Pharma has been recommending amphetamine (Adderall) for ADHD sufferers for years to come. It's also popular at college campuses around the time of the exam. Too bad, because there are a lot of better choices.

Amphetamine is at considerable risk. In healthy adults, it improves attention, focus, motivation to work, and short-term memory, all by increasing the release of dopamine and norepinephrine in your prefrontal cortex. [5][6] Amphetamine also reduces fatigue, but it makes you jittery and can increase anxiety.

What concerns me about amphetamine is its addictive potential and the fact that it can cause stress and anxiety. Research says that it is only slightly likely to cause addiction in people with ADHD [7], but we don't know much about its addictive potential in healthy adults. We all know about the addictive potential of methamphetamine, and amphetamine is closely related enough to make me nervous about so many people giving it to their children. Amphetamines induce withdrawal symptoms, so there is a risk for addiction.

If you want to have a stimulant, drink some coffee.

4) Forskolin & artichoke extract

Memory, focus, learning

Because smart drugs like modafinil, nicotine, and Adderall come with drawbacks, I have developed my own line of nootropics, including Forbose and SmartMode, which is safe, widely available, and does not require a prescription.

Forskolin, found in Forbose, has been part of Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. In addition to being fun to say, forskolin increases cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), a molecule essential for learning and memory formation. [8] I have been using forskolin for more than a decade.

Forskolin is particularly effective if you combine it with an artichoke extract. Artichoke extract inhibits PDE4, an enzyme that breaks down the cAMP. PDE4 inhibitors make cAMP more available, and when you add cAMP-enhancing effects to your artichoke extract, you get a significant boost to learning, memory, and motivation.

Or you get a headache and an energy crash when you “come down.” That might be because cAMP upping uses more dopamine than your brain would normally do. It affects different people in a different way. All you know is if you try it.

As part of our Bulletproof Brain Mix, Smart Mode includes artichoke extract and other cognitive-enhancing ingredients. Taking Forbose to get your dose of forskolin. Forbose is a special product that helps the body create more energy to power through vigorous physical and mental exercise.

5) L-theanine

A calm alertness, reaction time, mental endurance

L-theanine is a major component of black and green tea. Theanine, on its own, promotes relaxation,[9] alertness and excitement.
Theanine also works with caffeine synergistically. Together, they increase response time, memory, and mental endurance. [11]

You can get your theanine from a capsule-like Zen Mode, or you can have a cup of green tea or two. If you decide to make green tea, look for tea that's grown in the shade, because shade-grown green tea tends to have much higher levels of theanine.

A dose of L-theanine: 200 mg. Take 3 Zen Mode soft gels with your morning coffee or take it at night like me.

6) Bacopa Monnieri

Attention, mood, stress, memory

This is a small water plant native to India. Bacopa is an adaptive agent–it helps your body to adapt to stress. It also improves memory in healthy adults[12] and enhances attention and mood in people over 65 years of age. 13] Scientists still don't fully understand how Bacopa works, but they do know it takes time to work; study participants didn't feel its memory-enhancing effects until they had been supplementing it every day for 4 weeks, so if you try Bacopa, stick with it for a month before you give it up.

Bacopa suppresses sperm production in male mice, so if you're trying to conceive, you might want to skip it. 14] However, it did not affect the testosterone or sex drive of the mice.

Many nootropic companies include Bacopa in their stacks, but they often do not use enough to give you real benefits. You want at least 750 mg a day. Take Bacopa with a fat source to increase absorption.

Bacopa monnieri dose: at least 750 mg daily, taken with a fat source

7) CoEnzyme Q10

Energy, clarity

Unfair Advantage supports your mitochondria, the power plants of your cells, with two different ingredients: CoQ10 enhances cellular energy production in your mitochondria, giving you both a mental and physical boost. 15] (The dose of CoQ10 is low, but it is in a colloidal form that enhances the delivery of PQQ) ActivePQQTM is a novel form of PQQ that is not inactivated by stomach acid. PQQ promotes the growth of new mitochondria and also helps your body clear up and replace old mitochondria. 16] You have the highest density of mitochondria in your brain's prefrontal cortex, which helps explain why I first feel the Unfair Advantage in my head. You have the second-highest density in your heart, which is likely why I feel it next in the center of my chest. Mitochondrial energizers may have profound nootropic effects! At higher doses, mitochondrial energizers also make excellent pre-workout supplements.

Unfair Advantage Dose: 1-4 ampules, taken at any time

8) KetoPrime

energy, stress

KetoPrime is another powerful nootropic. It contains oxaloacetate, a compound that can protect your brain from environmental toxins.

Common environmental toxins–pesticides, for instance–cause your brain to release glutamate (a neurotransmitter). Your brain needs glutamate to function, but when you make too much of it, it becomes toxic and begins to kill neurons.

Oxaloacetate protects rodents from brain damage caused by glutamate.[17] Of course, more research is needed to determine whether or not oxaloacetate has the same effect on humans.

KetoPrime is a great way to give a little extra boost to your brain. In animal studies, the Krebs Cycle is also modified, shifting the ratio of NADH to NAD+, making mitochondrial energy production more efficient.

KetoPrime Dose: 1 lozenge, taken in the morning

9) NeuroMaster

Memory and Focus

NeuroMaster is a supplement that I helped to formulate when I learned about the power of coffee fruit extract. This significantly increases the level of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)–even more than exercise. BDNF is a key neuroprotein that helps increase neuroplasticity and create new neurons, resulting in better memory and focus.

This is important for the short term and is essential for the long term because you naturally lose BDNF as you age. Lower BDNF levels are associated with age-related hippocampal shrinkage and memory decline.[18] In several studies, 100 mg of coffee fruit extract (red fruit surrounding coffee beans) increased BDNF by approximately 140 percent.[19][21] The boost lasted a few hours.

Dose NeuroMaster: 1 cap, taken in the morning with or without food. You should know about nootropics. When you start taking nootropics for the first time, sometimes you feel like nothing is going on. That's exactly what I've experienced. Then, a week later, I stopped taking them and immediately noticed their absence. This is because when your brain works better, it feels so natural that it's hard to see unless you have a high degree of self-awareness.

On the other hand, sometimes, you feel a significant cognitive boost as soon as you take a pill. It could be a good thing or a bad thing. For example, I find that modafinil makes you more of what you already are. That means, if you're already kind of a dick and you're taking modafinil, you might act like a big dick and regret it. It definitely happened to me! I like to think that I've done enough to hack my brain to get through that programming… and that when I use nootropics, they help me help people.

You can also get deeply depressed. One of the nootropics I haven't written about here, Lucidril, has excellent anti-aging and cognitive benefits for some. Still, others get deeply sad after taking it. After three days on Lucidril, I felt hopeless about my life. Luckily, I did my research, and I stopped taking it right away.

There is an inherent risk of experimenting with pharmaceuticals or illegal drugs such as LSD. The risk is higher than that of most natural substances. You may have a psychotic experience if you take too much LSD; you are more likely to have a severe headache if you take too much of a choline-stimulating herbal substance.

It's also worth checking the purity of your nootropics. I've seen some companies promoting pre-made nootropic stacks that contain ingredients such as blue agave (fructose!), food coloring–even metal pieces. Read the labels!

I have high hopes that the medicine will wake up to the fantastic benefits of nootropics and begin to be incorporated into society. Not only do many of them increase your quality of life, but they also make your brain more resilient to the environment around you. We could all use a little more of that.

Before you try nootropics, I suggest you start with the basics: get rid of things in your diet and life that first reduces cognitive performance. That's the easiest. Then add energizers such as Brain Octane and clean up your diet. Then go to herbals and natural nootropics. Use drugs selectively only after you've figured out your basics.

The truth is, almost 20 years ago, when my brain failed, and I was fat and tired, I didn't know how to follow this advice. I bought $1000 worth of smart drugs from Europe, took them all out of desperation at once, and had enough cognitive function to save my career and solve my metabolic problems.

You don't need to do that with the information we have now. Please learn from my mistakes, please!

Do Smart Drugs Really Work?

If you never heard of Nootropics before, Nootropics 101 might be a good quick start to familiarize yourself with this universe.

By Eve Watling for Newsweek (not that I have any doubt whatsoever)

Nootropics are drugs, supplements and other substances believed to enhance brain power.

There are nootropics designed to boost memory, concentration, motivation and even happiness. The term encompasses a number of substances, both natural and synthesised, over the counter and prescription, legal and illegal.

The common kitchen spice turmeric can be a nootropic, but so can Ritalin, Sunifiram, even LSD.

The word nootropics is a portmanteau of the Greek words nous (“mind”) and trepein (“to bend or turn”).

It was coined in 1972 by Romanian scientist Corneliu Giurgea, who invented Piracetam, an early cognition-enhancing drug said to improve memory and learning. Giurgea was clear about the radical potential of nootropics: “Man will not wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain.”

The thought of bypassing natural brain chemistry to suppress unwanted feelings and enhance creativity, memory and other brain functions, has long been the stuff of science fiction, from Brave New World to Flowers for Algernon to the 2011 Bradley Cooper movie Limitless. It’s growing appeal is understandable as regulations around cannabis loosen and options for optimizing our minds and bodies for peak performance grow.

A 2017 International Journal of Drug Policy study found that nearly 30 percent of Americans said they had used smart drugs at least once in the last year, up from 20 percent in 2015.

The culture of self-improvement dovetails with an unstable jobs market increasingly built on freelance work and zero-hour contracts. In this climate, the imperative to be better version of yourself can seem less like a bonus and more like a necessity. “There has been a lot of interest in improving cognitive capacity as job markets and higher education get more competitive,” Dr. Kimberly R. Urban, who has researched the effects of Ritalin on developing brains, told Newsweek . “People are desperate for any edge they can get that they feel may give them a better chance of success.”

limitless nootropic

Bradley Cooper in 2011's ‘Limitless,' which explores nootropic use.

Globally, the market for brain supplements is expected to grow from $2.3 billion in 2015 to $11.6 billion by 2024. To meet that rising demand, a nootropics industry has built up in San Francisco, where hyper-efficient creativity is seen as the Holy Grail and other performance-enhancing strategies, like sleep tracking and intermittent fasting, are all the rage.

While they’re garnering millions in sales and investment dollars, these companies aren’t without controversy: A study commissioned by HVMN found that one of its supplement was less effective than coffee. One NIH report connected nootropics to an increased likelihood of obsessive-compulsive disorder and addictive behaviors.

*cough* no reference *cough*

And there’s the ethical dilemma: if they work, do nootropics give an unfair advantage to students and workers who can afford to use them?

nootropic stack
Combinations of nootropics, designed to create the perfect individual recipe for peak performance, are known as “stacks.”

How Do Nootropics Work?

Nootropic aficionados are known to mix and match a bewildering array of cognitive enhancers, depending on their own individual brain chemistry and life goals. These cocktails, designed to create the perfect individual recipe for peak performance, are known as “stacks.”

There’s an infinite combination of stacks, and because everybody’s brain chemistry is different, the only way to know which cocktail works for you is to experiment. On the Reddit thread r/Nootropics, users discuss their stacks, ask for advice and even post pictures of their crowded medicine cabinets. One user listed his stack for turning into a morning person, which includes the amino acid arginine (said to improve circulation), ginkgo biloba (for better brain function) and bromelain, a compound derived from pineapple said to boost the immune system. His stack also includes more traditional biohacks like saunas, cardio training and drinking coffee.

One redditor asked about taking stacks while pregnant; another wondered if DNA testing made anyone alter their nootropics usage. Some users admit spending hundreds of dollars on their stacks every year.

David Pearce, cofounder of the nootropics advocate group Humanity Plus, takes a cocktail of nootropics that includes the antidepressant amineptine and the Parkinson’s drug selegiline, which also works as a mood enhancer. (Pearce also downs zero-calorie Red Bull.) “My main personal interest has been in finding sustainable mood-brighteners that don't impair intellectual function—and ideally, sharpen it,” he told Newsweek. He says these drugs make him “function better in a harsh Darwinian world.”

But he does see the downside to the lack of regulation: “A vast unregulated drug experiment is currently unfolding across the world with the growth of online pharmacies selling all kinds of pills and supplements,” Pearce says. “Many of the scientific studies often cited are small, unreplicated, poorly controlled, and don’t disclose source of funding. [And] publication bias is endemic.”

“Acute action and long-term effects of nootropics aren't always carefully distinguished,” he adds: “the brain has an incredibly complex web of negative feedback mechanisms. Online merchants are obviously trying to make a profit, so they aren’t impartial sources of information.”

L-theanine nootropic

Research into some gentler nootropics, like the L-theanine compound found in green tea, generally indicate improvements in brain function.

Are Nootropics Regulated?

Most nootropics are classified as dietary supplements, not medications, which means that the claims made on their labels undergo much less scrutiny than prescription pharmaceuticals.

“Over-the-counter supplements have no FDA oversight, so companies can put basically whatever they want in them,” explains Urban. “Studies have shown multivitamin concentrations vary by sometimes 50 percent or more. When it comes to supplements containing things like caffeine or other stimulants, that variability can be toxic.”

She cites the weight-loss supplement Hydroxycut, which was recalled by the FDA in 2009 after it was linked to serious liver injuries and at least one death.

Some nootropics that require a prescription, like Ritalin and Adderall, are often bought via online “gray” markets. They cause alertness and productivity in users who don’t have ADHD, making them an extremely popular study drug, but both substances can be seriously addictive. Urban’s research shows that Ritalin can harm the developing prefrontal cortex in young people, leading to problems with memory and multitasking. According to one study, some 1.3 million teens reported misusing ADHD drugs in the last month alone.

nootropic pills
Experimenting to find a good nootropic stack can backfire, causing side effects and mood swings.

Are Nootropics Safe?

A number of Silicon Valley whizzs swear by nootropics—Dave Asprey, author of the best-selling The Bulletproof Diet , who takes 15 supplements a day, including Piracetam. And artists have been using brain-boosting drugs for centuries. Poet W.H. Auden, who took amphetamines for 20 years, called drugs “labor-saving devices,” although he acknowledged “these mechanisms are very crude, liable to injure… and constantly breaking down.”

Research into some gentler nootropics, like the L-theanine compound found in green tea, generally indicate improvements in brain function, although not by much. It’s also hard to know how much of the benefits users report are simply the result of the placebo effect.

Experimenting to find a good stack can backfire, causing side effects and mood swings. “The biggest risk seems to be from altering different aspects of cognition in different ways,” says Urban. “For example, focus may improve but creative thinking could be impaired.”

Users thrilled at the prospect of hacking their brain chemistry should be wary, some nootropics are addictive and have dangerous long-term side effects.

Psychostimulants like Ritalin and Adderall can raise blood pressure, impair appetite, cause insomnia and lead to cardiac problems, says Urban, while improper use of ampakines, which are being investigated as a treatment for Alzheimer's, can actually kill neurons.

There are a range of gentle nootropics without such scary side effects, although they might not be that effective either. “There are multiple over-the-counter herbal, vitamin nootropic cocktails. I doubt these would have any serious negative repercussions, but they are not going to have much of an impact on cognition, beyond giving a bit of an energy boost from caffeine,” says Urban.

students and nootropics
Do nootropics give an unfair advantage to students and workers who can afford to use them?

Are Nootropics The Way of The Future?

The rise of nootropics pose a larger question: most people accept some kind of chemical intervention in their lives, whether its being anaesthetized before surgery or having a beer to loosen up after work. But with greater scientific advancement bringing us newer and more profound ways to improve our consciousness, a future of superhumans hopped up on nootropics seems increasingly likely.

Pearce sees nootropics as a step on the path to eliminating depression and anxiety and unleashing the person’s full potential. He acknowledges that suffering teaches us, but insists that, “Even if we judge that many nasty emotions can be functionally useful, I think the key question to ask is whether they are functionally indispensable or whether we can replace them by more civilized alternatives.”

He prefers to envision a state of well-being that preserves critical insight, rather than a zonked-out high. “Critically, I think we should be free to choose lifelong gradients of intelligent bliss.”

Pearce admits, though, that nootropics aren't for everyone. “When transhumanists talk of overcoming suffering, aging and our human intellectual limitations, we would do well always to stress the word ‘voluntary.’ Most suffering in the world today is involuntary. Mastery of our genetic source code promises a world where we’ll be free to choose whether to suffer or not. Later this century and beyond, the level of suffering in the biosphere will be an adjustable parameter.”

Urban is uncertain how successful humans can be in determining their own limitations. “I think the idea of popping a pill to become smarter is easy and appealing to people, but the brain isn't that simple,” she says. “And there are many aspects to ‘intelligence.’ You cannot just boost brain function across the board permanently or even for a long period of time. Even the studies that showed Ritalin improving attention and focus in adults mentioned that it could negatively impact impulsiveness, and didn't improve all aspects of cognitive performance.”

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